On September 6, 2019, Mark Hecht, an instructor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Mount Royal University, wrote an editorial entitled “Ethnic diversity harms a country’s social trust, economic well-being…”.
Hetch’s article unleashed a storm of controversy across the country. While a number of disturbing circumstances unfolded, perhaps the most alarming was the response of the faculty association that was supposed to be representing his interests.
I have been a member of the Mount Royal Faculty Association (MRFA) for over 11 years, and have found it to be one of the best in the country. The membership is very engaged, and historically the organization has been notable for its fairness and impartiality. In a number of controversies that I have been personally involved with, the MRFA provided much needed advice and was a reliable source of support.
Over the last few years, however, this principled foundation has been crumbling. Rather than seeing its role as representing all members, an increasingly vocal group of ideologues are demanding that the MRFA promote their particular political perspective. This also has been seen in the case of other faculty associations. At the University of British Columbia, for example, the faculty association demanded that a talk critical of sexual orientation and gender identity policies (SOGI 123) be cancelled. The Wilfrid Laurier University Faculty Association even took a stance against some of its own faculty members when they supported inviting me to their campus to critically discuss university indigenization.
The most significant failing of the MRFA has occurred with respect to the case of Mark Hecht. In commenting to the media about the “heated arguments” that had taken place about Hecht’s views on the MRFA facebook page, the MRFA President stated that she stood behind our mission statement that requires members to “[uphold] the values” of diversity and equity. She implied that Hecht did “not speak for the entire academic body or reflect the beliefs and the value system of the faculty association”. She then asserted that she wouldn’t be speaking to Hecht about his article unless another member formally complained about it. With this public statement, the MRFA was potentially enabling a faction that was contemplating making such a complaint.
This faction became more emboldened in the weeks to come. At a meeting held to provide information to MRFA members attending General Faculties Council on September 19, 2019, the MRFA President made posters available that were produced by the Indigenous and People of Color [sic] Support Network. These posters featured the words WE BELONG HERE RACISM DOES NOT; they were made in an attempt to pressure the administration to denounce Hecht’s Op-Ed. Making these posters available at a forum that was intended to represent all faculty members again legitimized the mobbing efforts that were underway.
The brandishing of these posters in General Faculties Council followed an action, pursued the day before, whereby this faction sent a secret letter to senior administration. The letter expressed “ongoing concerns with discrimination on campus” and alleged that Hecht’s editorial contained a “blatantly Islamophobic and xenophobic message”. While Hecht was mentioned by name in this letter, he was not copied on the correspondence. In fact, Hecht only became aware of this letter because he made a Freedom of Information and Privacy request, and the copy received was almost completely redacted.
This sequence of events is perplexing until one considers that the MRFA’s “Mission” includes the statement that it “upholds the values of diversity, equity and human rights”. Affirming the “[value] of diversity”, which seems to be innocuous on the surface, is being turned into what Abigail Thompson calls a “loyalty oath”, where faculty are expected to show that they are committed to a particular vision of society. While such oaths historically concerned swearing that one was not a member of the Communist Party, similar demands are now being made with respect to “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion statements”. They have become the new “political litmus test” at universities.
The vitriolic response of many faculty members to Hecht’s views, as well as the MRFA’s biased intervention, makes sense when one considers that the Op-Ed was perceived as violating a presumed loyalty oath concerning “diversity, inclusion and equity”. Because of the continuous promotion of these concepts in all sorts of university documents, professors often affirm them without question. The ideology is so deeply engrained that the mantra “diversity is our strength” is perceived as axiomatic. When Hecht decided to challenge the assumptions of this ideology, therefore, he was perceived as being an immoral person, a poor scholar, and an incompetent teacher. It thus became a professed duty for many faculty to demand that Hecht be censured, and perhaps even fired.
Some readers will be inclined to interpret my criticisms of the MRFA’s actions as an attack on faculty associations in general. Nothing could be further from the truth. Faculty associations create the collective strength needed to defend the university’s academic mandate from various threats. In order to achieve their actual “Mission”, however, faculty associations must resist being captured by a segment that is promoting an anti-intellectual agenda. For the MRFA to state that the views of a professor do “not reflect the beliefs and the value system of the faculty association” shows that it has become distorted into a vehicle that promotes “diversity, inclusion, and equity” over academic considerations. Faculty associations do not have particular “beliefs”, or a value system that must be policed. They represent a community of scholars with diverse perspectives who engage in open inquiry to determine what values and beliefs deserve their support.
The case of Mark Hecht shows that “Diversity” no longer means a diversity of ideas, but the expression of an exclusionary ideology. It is time for all faculty associations to redefine diversity to refer to ideas, and not the agenda of a censorious group. Academics must oppose all “loyalty oaths,” as they corrode our ability to think critically and pursue the truth.